When Virginia football narrowed Louisville’s lead to 17-14 at halftime, it appeared we had the makings of another down-to-the-wire contest between two programs who had played to within seven points of one another in all five previous meetings. Two of the last three contests, in fact, came down to the final minutes.
Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and a staunch defensive effort, the homestanding Cardinals made sure the sixth installment of this series wasn’t close. Louisville dominated the Cavaliers in the second half, earning a 38-21 victory and becoming bowl eligible with its sixth win of the season. Virginia, which falls to 6-4 on the season and 3-3 in the ACC, saw its hopes of Coastal Division title dashed with the loss.
Coming off a thrilling 40-36 victory at home over Georgia Tech the previous Saturday, newly bowl-bound Virginia started this game very well. The Cavalier defense held Louisville’s high-octane attack to a 3-and-out on the game’s first offensive series. The offense then marched 54 yards in seven plays, with running back Chris Sharp taking a nifty under-the-legs handoff from quarterback Kurt Benkert into the end zone from seven yards out.
Louisville erased the 7-0 deficit on the very next possession, when Jackson sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown run. The home team had tied the game at 7-7 and would never trail again. Aside from Benkert’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Evan Butts late in the first half, Virginia simply couldn’t score. Meanwhile, Jackson and the Cardinal offense put the game out of reach by scoring touchdowns on each of its first three offensive drives of the second half.
A late 3-yard touchdown run from Virginia’s Jordan Ellis made for the game’s final score.
“Louisville out-executed us on every phase of the game,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in this AP report published on ESPN.
The Cavalier defense “didn’t make enough stops, especially in the second half,” Mendenhall added. “Our offense was inconsistent. Kurt was on the run.”
Louisville’s defense entered today allowing 410 yards per game, including 259.1 yards passing per contest. In its previous outing, the Cardinals defense was sliced and diced by Wake Forest, which racked up 625 total yards — 461 through the air — and 42 points. However, Benkert and the Cavalier offense managed only 277 total yards — 214 passing and 63 rushing. Virginia’s senior quarterback was harassed consistently throughout and sacked four times. The Cavalier offensive line didn’t allow a sack in last week’s win over Georgia Tech but had allowed 10 sacks in the three games prior.
Jackson was excellent, completing 15-of-26 passes for 195 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. He rushed 15 times for 147 yards and the one score. Running back Dae Williams added 88 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while wide receiver Jaylen Smith finished with five receptions for 84 yards and two scores. Virginia fans will remember that Smith made the game-winning touchdown catch against the Hoos in last year’s thriller.
The road doesn’t get any easier for Virginia, which travels to the now Coastal Division champion Miami next Saturday. Kickoff is at noon.